Dale Russakoff – Shomrei’s Mensch-in-Chief


In 1994, Dale Russakoff moved to Montclair with her husband, Matt Purdy, a reporter at the New York Times, and their two sons, Sam and Adam. She worked as a reporter for the Washington Post in their New York office. Soon after arriving in town, the Purdy/Russakoff family was greeted by Judy Post, Neal Yudkoff, and their daughter, Sunny, neighbors who live immediately behind them in their neighborhood. This connection was meaningful and reinforced the family’s interest in becoming part of the Shomrei community. They joined the synagogue, signing Adam up for the Shomrei nursery school. Dale remembers their first Rosh Hashanah in Montclair when she saw Neal addressing the congregation as its president. Participating in the services  helped the family feel part of Shomrei.

Dale shared that being an involved member of the community is an expression of her Jewish identity, an experience that she had as a child in her synagogue in Birmingham. It was important to her that she and her family find opportunities to volunteer at Shomrei. One of their first experiences was helping with hosting homeless families at the synagogue under the aegis of the Interfaith Hospitality Network. Through the initiative of its rabbi, Joshua Chasin, Shomrei began participating in this initiative in the early 1990’s as a charter member of the Essex County chapter of the IHN and has continued under its role under our lay leadership until present.


Dale remembers going with her sons to spend time with the families housed at our synagogue through IHN. It made a profound impact on her boys, with Adam at age four speaking with his mother about what it was like to not have a home. Adam and Sam have both continued to engage with children, Sam through entering the field of education and Adam in volunteering with youngsters through Shomrei during his school years and continuing to do so until present.  Dale remained an active volunteer in the IHN program at Shomrei, and in 2005, she became responsible with Shirley Grill for coordinating the bi-annual hosting of the homeless families.

Dale also became active in the Mensch Squad as well. This committee was initially started in the 1990’s through congregant initiative. It helped link Shomrei volunteers to congregants who needed support in times of need, such as rides to medical appointments and meals when people were ill or had suffered a loss.

1239827_2021139971546_1927825870_nThe coordinators of the Mensch Squad immediately responded to Dale’s willingness to help. She was initially asked to reach out to an older congregant. Over time, Dale provided support to this person in a wide range of ways, such as helping with some daily tasks as well as with regular contact through calls and visits and at times connecting with the congregant’s family who lived out of town. Dale also continued to volunteer in other capacities with the Mensch Squad as well.

In 2008, Dale’s professional responsibilities changed. She transitioned from working for the Washington Post to being an independent journalist and writer. With some greater flexibility, Dale began to take a greater role in community activities, such as IMANI, which gives support to Montclair students to fulfill their academic potential and pursue the goal of a college education.

It was around this time that Dale took on the role of coordinating the Mensch Squad. She found that as technology improved, she took advantage of tools, such as the internet to more easily  reach volunteers and meet the expanding needs of the Shomrei community. Dale has seen that both the volunteers and the recipients of the assistance have benefited from the mutual support being provided.

10629717_2286446124034_7132071526616623257_nDale had wonderful role models and inspiration for her community involvement in her parents.  They were both community activists in Birmingham, Alabama in the 1960’s as she was growing up. Mrs. Russakoff was involved in helping a Black college in Birmingham in its becoming a credentialed institution of higher learning at a time that there were still obstacles in the way of this being realized. As a result of this experience, her mother became more involved in local politics, which led the election of the first African American mayor in Birmingham. Dr. Russakoff, a well respected pulmonologist, was a pioneer in bringing to the attention of the city, then the state and the country, the severe health dangers of industrial pollution on the citizens who lived in vicinity of plants such as U.S. Steel.

In addition to her good works at Shomrei, Dale is the author of, The Prize: Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools?, which was published in September 2015. She continues to write as an independent journalist.

Join us as Shomrei Celebrates: Dale Russakoff and the Mighty Volunteers of the Mensch Squad and IHN.


Dinner and Festivities March 3, 7:30pm at Shomrei.
Information and Tickets


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